When you're unsure where bass are located in a big lake and searching for a bite, what's the best lure to use?
Take a tip from pro bassers and tie on a lipless vibrating crankbait. They call these noisy lures "Traps" after the original bait in this genre, the Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap. Not a bad nickname, considering these chattering, hard-throbbing artificials have a way of snaring unsuspecting lunkers.
My "Day on the Lake" series for Bassmaster affords me up-close access to the superstars of the Bassmaster Elite Series circuit, and one of the biggest revelations I've observed is how often these angling aces rely on lipless crankbaits to put some serious weight in their livewells. Kevin VanDam, Boyd Duckett and Marty Stone come to mind — they all have great confidence in these lures, not only for bringing in a limit of keepers, but for catching giant bass as well. Bassmaster asked each of these experts to provide some inside tips on scoring lunker largemouth on lipless cranks. If you think these baits are strictly "numbers" lures, what follows is guaranteed to turn your head around.
Most bassmasters gunning for big bass never consider using lipless crankbaits," says North Carolina pro Marty Stone. "They view saturation baits like plastic worms and jigs as the best lunker lures because these baits can be worked slowly through thick cover. True, worms and jigs are proven big bass catchers, but a lipless crank will catch wall-hanger bass while allowing you to fish at a much faster pace. To a tournament angler like me who's fishing against the clock, that's a beautiful thing."
Stone demonstrated his prowess with a lipless crankbait one March afternoon during our "Day on the Lake" outing when he bagged a hulking 7-3 largemouth on a red craw Lucky Craft LVR. Then an hour later, he hung and lost a bass on the same lure that was so big, it literally turned the nose of his boat around when it steamrolled for deep water. "I've caught bass weighing almost 9 pounds in tournaments on lipless crankbaits," Stone indicated. "In early spring, when the water is cold and murky, this is absolutely the best lure you can use for bass in the 4- to 7-pound range. I've had prespawn bass that looked to be 12 or 13 pounds hit my LVRs in tournament practice or when I was just out fun fishing — I'm talking downright scary fish!"
Stone begins chunking lipless cranks in late winter, when the water temperature bumps 38 degrees. "To most anglers, this seems insane — I mean, a lipless crankbait is designed to be burned back to the boat on a high-speed reel, right? But you can catch hawg bass in cold water by crawling this lure, provided you fish it on the right tackle." In winter, Stone uses 7- and 7 1/2-foot cranking rods and 5.4:1 baitcasting reels spooled with 10- to 12-pound fluorocarbon or 30-pound braided line.Water in the high 40s to mid-50s is lipless crankbait heaven, Stone attests. "In warming water, the big females move out of deep water to stage prior to spawning. Now is the time to target little cuts or indentations in the bank — I call these 'pockets' or 'eyebrows.' Big bass will stack up in these places in large numbers before scattering out to their bedding areas, but they're so subtle, most guys never bother to fish them. If you luck into the right pocket, you can really trainwreck them by fancasting a lipless crankbait —I've caught 30 pounds in 30 minutes on this pattern."
When fishing a lipless crankbait in brushy or weedy areas, reduce hang-ups by clipping the leading hook off both sets of trebles.
VanDam, like Stone, uses a baitcasting rod with a soft tip for lipless cranks. "You'll foul-hook a lot of big fish on these baits because they'll roll or flash on them, especially when their metabolism is slow in cold water," he explained. "A soft cranking rod is forgiving enough to enable you to land most of these bass. This isn't like jig or tube bait fishing, where you've usually got your fish solidly hooked and can swing it aboard immediately. With a lipless crank, I'll play the fish carefully, gradually working it close enough so I can see where and how well it's hooked. If the lure is down its throat, I can safely swing it aboard, but if it's either foul-hooked or hooked lightly in the mouth, I'll take my time landing it." He pairs the cranking rod with a slow 5:1 reel and 14-pound fluorocarbon.KVD often finds the best places for fishing lipless crankbaits during prespawn are in the upper end of the lake, where the water is often murky to downright muddy from runoff, as well as 5 to 7 degrees warmer than downlake. "Think shallow — target stump flats, mud points, gravel bars and little pockets close to deeper water," he recommends. "Bass will slide into these skinny spots to warm themselves. Sunny days are usually best for big fish. Sometimes they'll be so shallow you can see their backs sticking out of the water!"
"I've got so much confidence cranking a Trap in early spring that I've been known to stay with it all day long," says 2007 Classic Champion Boyd Duckett. During our April 2007 "Day on the Lake" outing, the Alabama pro braved sleet, rain and a brutal northeast wind to catch a limit of good bass on a red craw Rat-L-Trap, including a 4-3 largemouth (he also hooked and lost two huge fish on this lure). "During spring cold fronts, the name of the game is getting bit," Duckett stressed. "To me, there are two ways to accomplish this: Either fish a finesse worm on a shaky head or crank a Trap. If I'm on a lake I don't know all that well, I'll go with the Trap because it lets me cover so much more water."
Duckett favors a 1/2-ounce Rat-L-Trap and fishes it with a big wire cross-lock snap attached to its split ring:"Besides making it easier to change baits quickly, the snap means I don't have to tie directly to the split ring, which can lead to abrasion and breakoffs when your line works between the wire coils. It looks kind of clunky, but the fish don't seem to mind."Duckett fishes his Traps with a cranking rod and a superfast 7:1 reel spooled with 10-pound fluorocarbon line. "I'm not into finessing this lure," he explains. "I'm strictly gunning for reaction strikes, so I keep it moving, even in icy water. I've caught pig bass on Traps in 39 degree water — they won't chase it, they just grab it when it runs past their nose."
Duckett, like Stone and VanDam, says murky water is critical for formulating a solid spring Trap pattern. "Bass are attracted to stained water in spring because it offers concealment and warms up quickly, so I focus my Trap attack on the murkiest areas I can find." Expect bass to be supershallow in off-colored water — 1 to 3 feet deep is common, Duckett claims. "Any flat, pocket or low-angle point you crank now may hold a wad of big bass. Ninety percent of the spring lunkers I've caught on lipless crankbaits were suspending in the middle of a pocket, or sitting a cast and a half offshore along some seemingly insignificant little ditch or breakline. So, make sure you chunk 'em out away from the shoreline, not just at the bank!"
Use a dark color like red craw on cloudy days, and a translucent or reflective color like blue or silver when the sun is out.